Ruby Blast (iOS) review
Ruby Blast is a new iOS release from Zynga. It’s available now in ad-supported free and ad-free paid versions from the App Store, and is “coming soon” for Android. Both versions carry in-app purchases of in-game currency and other resources, and both rely on an “energy” system as a backbone of their monetization strategy.
Ruby Blast has been available on Facebook since June of this year. In our review, we praised the game for doing what Zynga does best — taking an established formula and then polishing it to a fine sheen. In the case of its Facebook incarnation, Ruby Blast combined the “match-3″ mechanics of Wooga’s Diamond Dash with the “digging” mechanic from PopCap’s standalone puzzler Bejeweled 3. Since its release, the Facebook version has expanded from its original “blitz” format with a new level-based “Adventure” mode. The mobile version sticks solely to the original timed “blitz” format, but connects to the Facebook version to allow for cross-platform weekly tournaments and synchronization of progress.
Ruby Blast’s mechanics revolve around tapping contiguous groups of three or more like-colored gems to score points, at which point more gems will fall down from the top of the screen. If the screen is short of possible matches or the player hesitates for too long, the gems will occasionally randomly rearrange themselves to make more obvious matches. Clearing gems next to rock at the bottom of the screen will “dig out” the rock, and if all the rock above a marked line is cleared, the player receives a time extension, the screen scrolls down, the difficulty increases slightly and play then proceeds once again.
As the player clears gems, powerups occasionally appear. Some only appear if the player has purchased “booster” items with soft currency before the game begins, while others simply appear in the playfield regardless. Tapping one of these powerups causes various special effects to occur, usually clearing out large groups of gems at once. As the player gets deeper in a single play session, more and more pieces of rock at the bottom of the screen are filled with lava and may only be destroyed by triggering powerups to remove the lava first. This is the main means through which difficulty increases.
Social features in the game include the aforementioned weekly tournament, but some powerups also encourage players to invite friends who are not yet playing the game. A special “drill” sometimes appears with a picture of a friend’s face on it, and triggering this prompts players to “thank” their friends for “helping” at the end of the play session. Of course, the “thank you” is actually an invite to come and play the game, but is a fun, different means of encouraging players to promote the game to their friends than obtrusive popup “Invite” and “Share” dialog boxes.
The game also features a GREE/Mobage-style pop-up interface dedicated to Zynga’s games, allowing players to discover new Zynga games, browse through what their Facebook friends are playing and invite “suggested” friends to join them in Ruby Blast. Presumably this is a feature that will start to be seen in more of Zynga’s mobile titles as time goes on — and it will also provide a means through which Zynga can partner up with other developers for cross-promotional efforts.
Monetization stems from in-app purchases of two different currencies. Soft currency is used to purchase boosters before play. Hard currency is used to replenish energy and purchase time extensions at the end of a play session if the player failed to beat their previous best score. Hard currency may also be used to purchase “emeralds,” but the game does not offer any clear explanation of why the player would want to purchase these — and they’re not cheap, either. As it happens, emeralds are used to trigger certain specific powerups, but there’s no apparent means of knowing this until the player reaches a sufficient level to use the powerup in question — but they can still expend their hard currency on emeralds before they’re able to make use of them. This is not very friendly to players, particularly given the relatively high cost of emeralds, so it would perhaps be better to remove the facility to purchase emeralds altogether until the player is at an appropriate level to make use of them.
Aside from this issue — along with the ever-obtrusive energy mechanic, which is not removed in the paid version, much to the chagrin of some App Store reviewers — Ruby Blast is an excellent mobile game. Its fast-paced mechanics are arguably better-suited to a touchscreen than a mouse or trackpad, and the “quick-hit” format of its “blitz” gameplay is an excellent fit for those playing on the go or just trying to while away a couple of minutes. It’s good to see Zynga branching out of its stereotypical “Ville” niche with arcade titles like this, and if the quality of Ruby Blast is anything to go by, the company’s future on mobile looks bright.
A couple of niggling little flaws aside, Ruby Blast is an excellent fit for mobile platforms.